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  • Human Rights Research Center

COP28: Examining the Outcomes and their Relation to Protecting the Rights and Interests of Vulnerable Developing States

February 12, 2024

A flood-affected woman poses for a picture before collecting drinking water from a tube-well in Bogura, Bangladesh, July 17, 2020. [Image Credit: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/ Reuters]

2023 was the warmest year on record as Antarctic sea ice was recorded at its lowest while greenhouse gas levels, sea levels, and sea surface temperatures continued to rise. These are daunting indicators that the effects of climate change are strengthening their hold on our planet. For this reason, many looked to the recently concluded United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, COP 28, to provide immediate solutions against these long-term effects. The Conference was dubbed by some as the “most significant set of agreements since the Paris Agreement” and concluded with notable strides, having numerous “firsts” in global climate protection, especially as the worldwide climate crisis continues to rage on. However, critics who have conducted a metaphorical forensic audit of the outcomes of COP28 assert that not enough was done to assist Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) and the most vulnerable countries. States parties are still committed to maintaining the increase in global average temperature well below 2℃ above pre-industrial levels and a purposeful effort by states to limit the rise in temperature to 1.5℃ as set byArticle 2. In the closing plenary of the world’s global and arguably most impactful environmental forum, among the “notable strides” of COP28 as identified were the settled framework for the Global Goal on Adaptation as well as operationalizing the loss and damage fund, which was evinced by states’ action to make down payments towards the fund.

Equity in Climate Crisis Mitigation 

The Global North-South divide, which has plagued global affairs, also invades climate mitigation. On the one hand, Global North countries can inject resources to adapt to the effects brought on by climate change, but those living in Global South countries are prone to suffer the most due to a lack of resources and means. The status quo of the current climate crisis is such that those least responsible for the climate crisis are threatened the greatest. Climate equity in global approaches, a recognized principle under the Paris Agreement, is arguably an integral guiding principle. The cascading effects of the impact of climate change hinders the protection and promotion of human rights globally. It was, therefore, fundamental that COP28 entailed a cognizant recognition of the needs of Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) and other countries most vulnerable to the impact of climate change.

Global Stocktake

To stay on course in achieving the below 2℃ goal by 2030, the Paris Agreement stipulates that states are to communicate nationally determined contributions every five years (article 4(9)), and this periodic stocktake will assess the collective progress towards achieving the purpose of the Paris Agreement and its long-term goals after the first global stocktake is conducted in 2023, as enunciated in article 14(2). The global stocktake must be completed in “a comprehensive and facilitative manner, considering mitigation, adaptation and the means of implementation and support, and in the light of equity and the best available science.” However, the Conference of the Parties on the global stocktake revealed that not all states were on track to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement. Urgent, comprehensive action is needed, as the first global stocktake said that a “deep, rapid and sustained” reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is necessary to stay on track with the pre-set 1.5℃ goal. 

Loss and Damage 

‘Loss and damage’ in the context of climate mitigation and as articulated in article 8 of the Paris Agreement speaks to collective state action in “averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including extreme weather events and slow onset events” as well as promoting sustainable development initiatives. Last year, at COP27 in Sharm-el-Sheikh, a breakthrough agreement was reached to provide loss and damage funding to vulnerable countries hardest hit by climate disasters. This was a momentous achievement, especially for small island developing states (SIDS) who had advocated creating such a mechanism for thirty years. The meeting of the state parties in Dubai was equally historic as it marked the first multilateral climate discourse on operationalizing the fund. Developing states facing climate disasters rely heavily on the availability of resources vis-a-vis the loss and damage fund to recover from the devastating effects of climate change. 

However, the “Loss and damage fund” appears to mimic a bandaid as 700 million dollars is pledged by Global North states to reverse the incremental effects of global warming caused by Global North states. This allotment of funds covers less than 2% of economic and noneconomic losses developing and SIDS states face (Reed, 2023). In other words, one can see the loss and damage fund as exacerbating class hierarchies reinforced by the global north when ignoring humanitarian issues until they can no longer be stuffed behind closed doors. The nations contributing to the most significant greenhouse gas emissions that can afford to technologically soothe their citizens through blistering or freezing temperatures pay a fraction towards nations that face detrimental cases of water pollution, heat waves, or threats of becoming climate refugees. Although nations such as Germany, the United Arab Emirates, and France have pledged hundreds of millions, estimates suggest that for developing countries and SIDS nations to see any meaningful rehabilitation from the effects of global warming, close to or more than 400 billion dollars would need to be donated. 

Mitigation and Adaptation 

The importance of mitigation and adaptation, built into the Paris Agreement framework vis-a-vis article 7, highlights the importance of preventative state action as a precursor to mitigating and adapting to the climate crisis. This entails respective state actions, either individually or jointly, which are geared towards collectively reducing the impact of climate change (Article 4(2)). These include increasing renewable energy capacities, reducing reliance on coal power, transitioning from fossil fuel use, and transitioning to zero-emission technologies. However, capacity and capital constraints prevent developing states from readily adopting these measures on the one hand, while developed states have chosen inaction and indifference, notwithstanding the availability of capital and capacity.  

In the outcome of the First Global Stocktake, states have been called on to have national adaptation plans by 2025 and to have plans to implement the same by 2030. There was also an indication that there needs to be a significant increase in financing by developed states for adaptation and mitigation. Moreover, funding does not exempt conscious government action toward climate mitigation, and the global stocktake indicated great concern at developed states’ failure to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25–40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. The Global Stocktake further disclosed that only 51 of the 190-odd state parties have submitted national adaptation plans, while developing countries face significant challenges in accessing finance to implement their national adaptation plans. 

What is at Stake for Developing Countries

As the world witnesses landmark global climate agreements, a stark reality persists the Global North’s perpetuation of climate injustice towards the Global South. It is evident that as greenhouse gas levels rise and climate change intensifies, Global South and SIDS nations remain vulnerable even though funds are allocated to alleviate the negative impacts of climate change. Greater recognition and accountability for the effects of global warming on Global South and SIDS nations must be taken by the Global North for alleviation funds to truly make a meaningful and lasting impact. It is estimated that by 2050, there could be 1.2 billion climate refugees. As of 2022, the world has seen a disproportionate population of refugees and asylum seekers, 84% to be exact, flee from nations experiencing volatile climate change. 

A special UN report has indicated that climate disasters are undoing strides in global development and deepening global inequality. Although COP28 can be celebrated for creating a framework for global climate change goals, climate equity worldwide needs to catch up as many states still need to meet agreed-upon climate goals. Collective state action must coexist with mitigation and adaptation processes to reduce developing nations’ constraints when adopting mitigation and adaptation measures. 

Way Forward: From Inaction to Intentional Action 

Undeniably, the magnitude and severity of climate change makes it one of the greatest threats to the human rights of our generation, affecting the full enjoyment of the core human rights conferred on all humans under the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The preamble of the Paris Agreement contains an acknowledgment by states that their actions in addressing climate change should “respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights” and, more patently, the right of every human person to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, which is continually being undermined by the inaction of developed states and inability to enforce on the part of developing states. In a cause for concern, an unmitigated climate crisis also threatens the other human rights of those living in vulnerable states and SIDS, such as the right to life, health, water, and food. Fossil fuels are by far the most significant contributors to climate change. COP278 ended with the promise of a just and equitable solution to the fossil fuel era, potentially “signalling the beginning of the end” of the era that induced the most devastating climate effects. Will it be enough to save SIDS and vulnerable countries from the catastrophic impacts of climate change?



Adaptation- In the context of climate change, adaptation refers to the processes and steps taken by states to adapt to climate consequences with a goal of livelihoods and communities.

Climate equity- Climate equity is part of the overarching aim of climate justice and entails the goal of recognizing and addressing the unequal burdens made worse by climate change, while ensuring that all people share the benefits of climate protection efforts.

Conference of Parties (COP)- The Conference of Parties or COP is the supreme decision-making body responsible for reviewing the implementation of the Climate Convention and any other legal instruments that the COP adopts and take decisions necessary to promote the effective implementation of the Convention.

Global Stocktake- this is the process by which countries and stakeholders analyze what areas they are making progress in meeting their goals under the Paris Agreement, and where they are not. 

Mitigation- Mitigation refers to efforts and actions taken by states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Plenary- A plenary is a meeting at a conference at which all parties are present.  

Small Island Developing States (SIDS)- a distinct group of 39 island nations from the Caribbean, the Pacific, and the Atlantic, Indian Ocean and South China Sea (AIS) which rare particularly vulnerable to climate change.


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